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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

NOSHing on Healthy Food at Bargain Prices

Aug 29, 2016 07:00PM ● By Elisa Smith

John Strong

When most customers think of grocery outlets, natural and organic products aren’t the first things that come to mind, but Allentown’s Grocery Outlet Bargain Market is changing that image. According to the store’s Independent Operator John Strong, “Typically, when people think outlet, they think ‘scratch and dent.’ We want them to think natural and organic, instead, while still enjoying discounts of 40 to 70 percent.” The evidence would indicate that they are. Strong’s store continues to set sales records since its opening about two and a half years ago. “While we contribute our success to a number of factors, including our great employees, we also believe it’s due in large part to word of mouth advertising from our customers regarding our NOSH products.”

NOSH is an acronym for natural, organic, sustainable and healthy foods, which represents a rapidly growing market for discerning, health-conscious consumers. NOSH products include those that are minimally processed and free of artificial ingredients and preservatives, those meeting U.S. standards for organic, those of premium quality (think gourmet and artisanal products), or those that meet special dietary considerations such as gluten-free, dairyfree and diabetic-friendly. Strong admits that these have not historically been available through outlet markets, which is why his customers are so excited to discover them in his store at deep discounts. “We definitely offer more brand names and healthy substitutes,” he says.

When Strong took over as the store’s general manager in 2014, NOSH products represented about six percent of its inventory. Today, they’ve more than doubled to over 12 percent, and that number continues to grow. He attributes the explosive growth to both customer demand and the fact that Grocery Outlet’s corporate headquarters is located in California’s San Francisco Bay area, a region known for its commitment to natural and organic foods, and to the relationships the company’s buyers have established with suppliers over its 70-year history. With more than 200 stores in western states including Idaho, Oregon and Washington, in addition to California, the company expanded to the East Coast in a big way in 2012, with the purchase of 15 Amelia’s Grocery Outlet locations. While some of Grocery Outlet’s stores are corporate owned, others are owned and managed by Independent Operators, allowing those with an entrepreneurial bent to become small business owners in their communities. Since Strong’s career includes 14 years with Amelia’s, having risen to operations manager at the time of the acquisition, he immediately recognized the opportunity with Grocery Outlet and enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to become an Independent Operator in 2015. A resident of Pennsylvania for 12 years, the Arizona native met his wife, Felicia, at the Allentown location when it opened as Amelia’s 10 years ago. “Needless to say, I have a real fondness for the Allentown area,” he says, adding that his location employs 37 local residents.

Though Strong admits the store’s assortment of products may be somewhat more limited than that of traditional grocery stores, it still averages about 4,500 different products each week, and more than double that number, about 10,000, in any given month. Strong describes the shopping experience as more like a “treasure hunt” than a traditional grocery shopping experience, yet he insists there are always healthy options in stock, including name-brand Kashi and Kind bars, as well as organic chips, popcorn and other snacks. “We may not always have every flavor, but there is always a selection,” he says. Strong adds that products like avocado and coconut oils are also becoming more readily available, due to their rising popularity. Of the 21 Grocery Outlet locations currently operating in Pennsylvania, his is one of about a half dozen dedicated to the NOSH customer. His commitment to providing healthy grocery options to local residents led him to assist in the recent opening of a new location in Quakertown. Managed by Independent Operators Mike and Vikki Anderson, that location shares an inventory selection similar to the Allentown store. Both stores also feature frozen foods and meat sections, in addition to small produce sections.

Most inventory shipments arrive on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and due to potentially limited quantities, customers are urged to remain alert for specials. Fortunately, remaining informed is easy via free daily emails known as Wow Alerts, which tout products priced at least 50 percent less than in traditional grocery stores. Strong also suggests following the store on social media to be kept abreast of specials. His two-year-old daughter, Samantha, also plays a role in social media marketing as the featured model in Sammy’s Pic of the Week, where she was recently seen enjoying Eden Organic Apple Strawberry Sauce and Annie’s Organic Honey Wheat Pretzel Bunnies.

Other traditional brand names are also available at similar savings, due to surplus, overruns or test items. For instance, Strong says “A national cereal producer may have a surplus of packages featuring a popular children’s movie character. When a new movie and new marketing associated with the brand are introduced, the older packaging is replaced, and Grocery Outlet purchases the previous product at a discount. This presents a great opportunity for our customers to enjoy fresh products at considerable savings.”

Strong advises customers to stock up when they find a product they like on the shelves. “Because our inventory changes so often, there’s no way to guarantee that same product will be there on their next visit.” The store is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and accepts cash, checks and all major credit cards, including Discover.

Allentown Grocery Outlet is located at 4628 West Tilghman Street. For more information, visit Facebook.com/AllentownGroceryOutlet or call 484-223-2900.

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